A Take On Tolkien
CHESTERTOWN, MD—The first of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Hobbit may be getting mixed reviews from the film critics, but Washington College English professor Corey Olsen, a.k.a. “The Tolkien Professor,” gives it two thumbs up. “I’d give it a 9 out of 10,” says Olsen, who saw the movie at a special screening two days before its official opening. “And the most iconic scene in The Hobbit, the riddle game with Golum, gets a 10. They knocked it out of the ballpark.”
One of the world’s top Tolkien experts, Olsen is creator of the “Tolkien Professor” podcasts, which offer a general audience his scholarly insights into the beloved author’s works. He recently published his first book: Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. So he watched the movie with the eyes of both scholar and fan.
“It was a great deal more faithful to the spirit of the book than the movie version of Lord of the Rings was to its book,” he says. “It maintains the moral ambivalence Tolkien intended: the dwarves, and even Thorin himself, are depicted as consumed with vengeance.
“The Thorin character is very well drawn in the movie. There is less emphasis on recovering the treasure and more on recovering the homeland,” he continues. “The film stresses Thorin’s role as the surviving heir with the perceived burden of avenging his ancestors and leading his exiled people back to their home.”
“The movie was very well thought out,” he says. “There was concern about how Jackson could create three epic films from this tiny book, but in truth he was drawing on a lot of the context and story that Tolkien provided retroactively after writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy.”
The character with which the movie takes the most liberties is the chief villain, Azog, Olsen adds. In the book, Azog is killed in battle, “but the movie has him survive as Captain of the Goblin Army and return to seek revenge. And again, Jackson integrates more history and background on the longstanding hostility and war between the Dwarves and the Goblins, context drawn from the books that would follow The Hobbit.
“Overall, I was very impressed,” he concludes.
Watch: Olsen discusses Tolkien, The Hobbit book and movie with The Daily Beast.
Read: An article on Professor Olsen’s expertise and book, including a Q&A from his publisher.
Listen: To Olsen’s conversation about Tolkien and The Hobbit with Midday host Dan Rodricks on WYPR’s “Midday.